The beauty and brilliance of old martial arts movies

Can you handle their epic moves?

Two Champions Of Shaolin. (Kristen Frier)

Picture this: the sun in the sky, like a crimson orb overlooking two duelling opponents. One of the individuals is an old man, every ounce of his facial hair cloured an elderly grey, while the other is a younger fighter, confident in their fighting abilities. Their dialogue is as follows:

Old man: “So, you’re going to challenge me?”

Young fighter: “I’ve mastered (insert fighting style) this time! I will defeat you!”

The two square off. The audience sees multiple zoom-in shots of each fighter getting struck. They dance across the battlefield like deadly ballerinas. The adrenaline kicks in. The young fighter emerges victorious.

This type of cinema holds a special place in my heart. Many films are pretty much identical in format and structure, and yet each one is wholly unique from the first to the last. Everything within these films is comically exaggerated. From the characters’ facial expressions, to the constant zoom-ins and zoom-outs of scenes taking place, each kung-fu film is filled with enthusiastic and unbridled action.

The plots of these films feature a protagonist who is usually mistreated by some evil bad guys. The bad guys demonstrate their expertise in kung-fu. The protagonist tries their hand at fighting them and gets knocked out. Battered and defeated, the protagonist makes a journey overhears to a destination that specializes in training people on how to fight. They travel there and witness the harsh training regime that the disciples of the location go through.

The following training sequence is beautifully shot, with slow-motion scenes of the protagonist struggling through the different stages of the exercises but also slowly learning and persevering.

The film’s conclusion ends with the protagonist facing off against his opponent, and the build-up from his training results in a massive payoff when he lays the smackdown on his opponent.

The soundtrack that plays over these films is funky and uplifting. Instead of the usual epic orchestra that plays when superheroes smash each other through buildings, the score features horns and trumpets that punctuate the absolutely gripping action taking place on the screen.

The cinematography is often beautiful, with most sequences taking place on a brightly lit set. The sun illuminates the characters’ faces, allowing the audience to take in the facial hair prosthetics on the actors, which miraculously stay glued throughout the entire duration they appear on the screen.

Better yet, it is seeing that same protagonist unleashing their new kung-fu skills in unpredictable, lightning fast, but still graceful displays of choreography. You as a viewer don’t understand what’s going on, and almost 89 per cent of the time, it’s just a completely bogus plot created for the actors to beat each other up on the big screen, and yet there’s a light-hearted campiness that sucks you right back in.

The training scenes that each kung-fu protagonist undergoes are quite uplifting and motivational. Seeing them persevere and come out a changed and badass individual is a hell of a mood boost.